While Kurt Waldbillig only started his position at Sakakawea Medical Center and Coal Country Community Health Center a month ago, he's a familiar face to some of veteran staff, providers and community members.
In the mid-2000s, Waldbillig was the CEO of SMC for a little over two years. Returning now to take over the joint leadership of SMC and CCCHC, he still has fond memories of his time here before and the personal connections he made. “It was early in my career and I was looking at how to expand,” he said. “Hazen/Beulah had a lot bigger population than Elgin, and a lot more opportunities to grow and expand.”
Now, Waldbillig is taking on the joint position again, following a half year period in which former CEO Darrold Bertsch filled in the position after Brian Williams resigned the position in April. “I think it was a year before when Darrold and I were at a long-term care conference, and I informed him we were thinking about coming back to the area if an opportunity opened up,” Waldbillig said. He and his wife have five children, three of whom live in the Bismarck area and one of whom works at Dakota Gasification Company. His other two children live in Thompson, N.D. and Houston, Texas.
So, when the position came up, Bertsch connected with Waldbillig, who took the position on starting Oct. 1. “My goal is to continue to build on the vision that Darrold had here in terms of the collaboration, and continue that as much as possible,” Waldbillig said, saying the future of health care is in such collaborative approaches among different organizations. “It’s important that we work strategically together to move forward,” he added.
Waldbillig said it was important to meet the needs of the younger population, finding new ways to serve new people. He said he sees strong health care as a key element in strong economic growth as well, making more people want to move to the communities when access to good health care is readily available.
Waldbillig said he is not pursuing any particular priority at this point, but instead wants to listen to staff and community members and see the needs and wants they have. “For the next three to six months, I’m just listening to staff and seeing what issues they are having,” he said. “I want to hear from our providers and staff and get a vision for going forward.”
“What has been cool is that, when Kurt was touring here, people who had known him before still recognized him, and he still remembered them and their names,” Bertsch said. “Both of these organizations are lucky to have the staff that they have and the limited openings that we have here, that’s a positive that we can build on,” Waldbillig added.
Waldbillig said staff shortages in all areas, from housekeeping to specialists, is the biggest single challenge facing the health care industry as a whole. He hopes to ensure that SMC and CCCHC, and the Hazen and Beulah communities, remain places people want to work at and live, while also encouraging longevity with existing staff. Waldbillig was born and grew up in Stanley, N.D., before moving to Bisbee in his freshman year, where he graduated from high school. He got his undergraduate degree in social work at the University of North Dakota and his Masters in Management at the University of Mary, along with a Health Care Certificate. Over the next 20 years, Waldbillig gained a lot of experience as a CEO of various health care organizations. He started in Richardton before going to Elgin and then to SMC in Hazen for the first time. While he was in Elgin, Waldbillig first met Bertsch, who he said was a mentor for him.
After leaving SMC, Waldbillig was Vice President of St. Alexius in Bismarck for seven years, where he oversaw the clinic. From there he went to first Benson and then Litchfield in Minnesota, before accepting the joint SMC/CCCHC CEO position this year and moving back to his home state and closer to his family.
Waldbillig and his wife are currently staying in Beulah. He has bought a property by Beulah Bay and plans to build up there this spring, saying he hopes to make that his retirement home. In addition to their grown-up children, the Waldbilligs have two dogs. “What we like to do is hang out with our family and kids and grandkids,” Waldbillig said. “We like to travel, and we like to be with family.” Waldbillig also enjoys different hobbies, ranging from ice fishing to doing puzzles to gardening.
(Story courtesy of Daniel Arens, Hazen Star)